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Our Stand on Cultivars

The qualities of native plants that we love—their durability, beauty, biological value to other species—all are products of thousands of years of natural selection. The survivors define the species through their ability to adapt to conditions of their native habitat, co-evolving along with native wildlife.

Given the burgeoning popularity of native plants in recent years, it was inevitable that some plant breeders would begin to tweak aspects of their forms and functions. The large horticultural marketing gurus demand product uniformity as they prepare their “industrialized-native” plants for the mega-chain garden centers. Propagating plants to select for specific characteristics, such as flower size, leaf color or compactness of growth, yields cultivated varieties, or cultivars, which can reliably reproduce the targeted variation but reduce the ecological value and genetic diversity of the original. Altered popular wild-type native plants are called nativars.

These cultivars and nativars, which usually sport descriptive and colorful names after their botanical name, are now widely available. Buyers who are attracted by their splashy features may fail to consider the unintended consequences of the variations. Changes in blossom size and color can confuse or deprive nectaring and pollinating insects. Many cultivars are sterile, depriving wildlife of winter seed sources. Vegetative propagation produces identical clones, and repeatedly harvesting and re-sowing seed from the same cultivated varieties deprives the plant community of the genetic diversity and flexibility that should be its strength. We encourage growers to stay away from these cultivars and nativars in favor of true straight species of native plants.

In restoration work and native landscaping, we believe that alien species, naturalized species and cultivars should be avoided, particularly when they might contaminate native gene pools.

With the ever-widening array of true native plants available, why degrade the environment by displacing them with lower-value species?

Learn more about Nativars and Cultivars from the Wild Ones

Hummingbird Haven

The Hummingbirds of Hummingbird Haven

With frequent talk of neonicotinoids in the news, awareness of pollinators like butterflies and bees has grown in recent years. What is known: habitat loss, lack of suitable forage, and pesticide use are the primary causes of pollinator decline. What is seldom noted is that these pressures are not limited to insects. The perils faced by all pollinators continue to escalate but some are getting help.

Hummingbird Haven

For over forty years Lois White of Smithfield Illinois has admired, studied, fed and advocated for the protection of hummingbirds. The Central Illinois farm where Lois and her husband Creel reside has been their home and livelihood for over fifty years. Perched along the Spoon River valley, their property bears more resemblance to a diverse wildlife preserve than to the agricultural model on which it was founded. With prairie and woodland, streams carpeted by stone, and a legacy of sensitive farming practices, the farm, now known as Hummingbird Haven, is a sanctuary devoted to the wild occupants that it benefits.

The devotion to one species in particular began several decades ago, when Lois started noticing a few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds near the house. She observed the hummingbirds more closely, putting out feeders and plants to serve as forage. As her knowledge of hummingbird behavior expanded, so did her passion for these tiny but capable birds.

Now, with four decades of experience, Lois White is an outstanding advocate and citizen scientist, and her efforts are utilized by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which conducts hummingbird-banding sessions three times per year (May, July and August) on the property. Hummingbird Haven is also open to the public, at no charge. During my visit, a couple from the Chicago area arrived unannounced, having driven almost four hours, to relax and observe hummingbirds in the comfortable shade of Lois White’s front yard. Thirty minutes later her phone rang. The coordinator of a master gardening program was calling to arrange a field trip for a group of participants. “We’ve had bus loads of people arrive,” said Lois. In 2014 more than 2300 visitors traveled to rural Fulton County to visit Hummingbird Haven.

Hummingbird Ecology

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) sustains on nectar and small insects. Nesting within deciduous woodlands of the eastern United States and Canada, it is the only breeding hummingbird species native to the eastern United States. Every year Ruby-throated Hummingbirds migrate north from Central America to mate, often undertaking a direct flight over the Gulf of Mexico, quite a feat for a bird weighing less than 0.2 ounces. After reaching their breeding ground, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will mate one or two times per season, with females occasionally building new nests while their first fledglings are still dependent. According to Lois, she has observed 3-4 fledglings per female in a single season, due in great part to the ample food, protection, and nesting supplies provided at Hummingbird Haven. Unaided, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds usually fledge 1-2 young per season and have been known to live up to nine years. A recent banding session at Hummingbird Haven captured an adult that had been banded seven years earlier. “They’ll keep coming back, year after year,” Lois said.

Feeding Hummingbirds

While eating lunch at a local cafe, Lois pointed out a collection of hummingbird feeders that were hanging around the building’s windows. Some of the feeders were quite ornate, of which Lois said, “That feeder is for the people, not for the birds.” Indeed the feeder, forged in the shape of a fish, was quite ornate but contained many difficult-to-clean glass folds, and lacked a suitable perch. “Young [hummingbirds] can expend as much energy hovering for food as they consume from the food source itself,”  she said.

Feeders take up quite a bit of Lois White’s time. With over fifty feeders strategically placed around the property, a substantial effort is made to clean and re-supply them regularly. Bulk amounts of cane sugar, which is boiled into simple syrup “nectar,” must be replaced every 3-4 days to prevent fermentation. Fermentation and contaminated feeder reservoirs are detrimental to a hummingbirds’ health. Just as harmful are the red dyes added to commercially mixed hummingbird feed. “These feeders are designed to attract [humming]birds without the added red of food coloring” which, according to Lois, causes irreversible kidney damage. “We need to get the word out, and tell people that this red colored feed is killing our [humming]birds.”

From Feeders to Forbs

Several years ago Lois’ granddaughter Emma began learning the importance and significance of native plant communities through her undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois Springfield. With encouragement from her professor of Conservation Biology, Emma started planning a native pollinator garden at Hummingbird Haven. The initial garden was staked out and arranged two years ago, and included a Mix & Match Potted Tray from Prairie Moon Nursery. “The flowers [plants] we received were absolutely beautiful and strong enough with minimal care after planting” Emma said. “We have been very happy with the plants that were sent to us.”

After a few plants began to flower, Emma and Lois noticed that the hummingbirds were singling out the native flowers, favoring them over the non-native species. In the second year, they decided to expand the pollinator garden with another Mix & Match Potted Tray and seed packets of twenty-five species.

Now a first year graduate student with a focus in pollinator and plant interactions, Emma is pushing ahead with the research that she started two years ago at Hummingbird Haven. This spring, in the pollinator garden’s third year, Emma and Lois plan to expand the garden perimeter with native forbs (wildflowers) and grasses, utilizing their third Mix & Match Potted Tray. “It’s amazing how the hummingbirds fly right to the natives,” Lois marveled. “We’re getting so many people that want to see the native garden, even though it’s only in its second year. People want to see our native plants.”

Visitors are welcome during the summer breeding season but are encouraged to call ahead of time. Visitors are also encouraged to attend one of the seasonal hummingbird-banding days. There is no cost to attend, but for a $5 donation to the Lincoln Land Birdbanders Association, you can “adopt” a hummingbird.

Lois White, Hummingbird Haven
16411 N Co Hwy 2, Smithfield, IL 61477
(309) 783-4375

When referring to “pollinators,” most people think of the charismatic species: butterflies, such as the Monarch, or bees, such as the introduced European Honeybee. In reality tens of thousands of species provide the essential reproductive role of pollination. Beyond the 12,000+ North American Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) species, or 4000+ North American species of native bees, beetles, flies, bats, and birds, like hummingbirds, play an essential role in the reproductive cycle of plants.

A Tribute to Dot and Doug Wade

Despite her legendary status among Upper Midwest prairie enthusiasts, the strongest impressions upon meeting Dot Wade in person were of humility, personal warmth, easy humor, a keen intellect and compassionate curiosity.

Even as Alzheimer’s disease gradually eclipsed her bright personality in her final years, Dot’s benign countenance and friendly presence were inspirations to those around her when she ventured to potlucks, social gatherings or prairie tours. She lived the last six years with her son, Prairie Moon Nursery co-founder Alan Wade, in the house that he built on Wiscoy Valley Land Co-operative in southeast Minnesota. She traveled with him annually to his winter home in the Philippines.

Global travel extended an itinerant theme that prevailed through Dot’s long life. The youngest of five siblings, she was born Dorothy H. Richman at home in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on September 13, 1914. She was raised in Sharptown, N.J., and migrated annually with her affluent family to their winter home in Florida.

Her passion for botany brought her to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where her undergraduate research included root studies of several native plant species at the newly-opened university arboretum. She met and fell in love with Doug Wade, then a graduate student of famed ecologist Aldo Leopold.

In a 1995 interview with Morris Wiener, Dot recalled the heady intellectual climate in Madison when she first met Doug:

“I remember that I was taking landscape architecture courses in the horticulture building, and our professor said there was a new, exciting professor that the university had hired and that we should pay attention to him. That impressed me, and then when I met Doug and found that he was Leopold’s graduate student…wow! At that time, the university respected Leopold, but I don’t think that he was widely known. He had not done much writing previously, but at Madison he was writing lots and lots of journal articles. All of the chapters in A Sand County Almanac (1949) had been his journal articles, and it was published the year after his death.”

In the midst of their academic work, Doug and Dot eloped to the Wisconsin Dells, where they married and honeymooned in 1936. Their combined expertise and zeal for restoration made them a dynamic, activist couple. Their shared interests and his career eventually took them to Pennsylvania, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa, Saskatchewan and Illinois. They raised a son and daughter during those years.

Wherever they landed, the Wades had a positive impact, creating new programs and opportunities to share their love of the natural world. They were early advocates of protecting and preserving prairie remnants, including the Nachusa grasslands in Illinois. In 1964, after four years in Regina, directing education programs for the Saskatchewan Department of Natural Resources, Doug joined the faculty of Outdoor Teacher Education at the Lorado Taft Field Campus in Oregon, Illinois.

In 1965, Dot and Doug purchased five acres of land overlooking the Rock River north of Oregon. Their landscape, featuring native remnants in both hillside pasture land and woodland acres, was complemented by construction of their beautifully unique house, built with limestone rock. Doug described the house, designed by architect Verne Solberg, as extending “organic” concepts developed by Frank Lloyd Wright, whom Dot had met at a party.

Doug and Dot spent 13 years restoring and propagating native plant species on their land, increasing their numbers to well over 100 from the three dozen or so that they originally identified. In 1970 the Wades opened Windrift Prairie Nursery, one of the first of its kind, to offer native seeds and plants commercially.

In his writings about their nursery endeavors, Doug stressed the need for accurate record-keeping, integrity in genetic tracking and a strong code of ethics. Windrift Prairie Nursery provided inspiration and principles, as well plants and seeds, to the Wades’ son Alan when he opened Prairie Moon Nursery in 1982.

Many whose lives were touched by Dot and Doug Wade remember what a powerhouse couple they were, complementing each other’s talents and style. Dot reflected on this in her interview with Morris Wiener:

“I always felt lucky that we were interested in the same things. What he liked to do, I liked to do, and what I liked to do, he liked to do. He was a better birder, and I might have been a little better at plants. We could go anywhere outdoors, anytime, and have a marvelous adventure together because of our interests. We enjoyed meeting the same kinds of people. Wherever we went, we could always find a nature club or birding group. We liked mountain climbing, we liked canoeing, and wherever we were, our interests seemed to focus together on nature and the outdoors.

“I always enjoyed the classes he taught at Taft Campus, and going with the students on field trips. Doug felt that he needed me on the trail. I could always add a little more to the class with my botany and natural history background. Two people in the same field might have had an ego problem, but it didn’t bother me that he was more outgoing. We worked together, and I was happy to be at the end of the line and follow him around. I think that is why I married him. He promised to take me camping! I think that if I had my own professional career, then there might have been conflicts, but that wasn’t the case. Doug could always depend on me to help out with things that students wanted to know about plants.”

Doug died suddenly a few days after his 78th birthday in 1987. Dot continued living in their home until she moved to Minnesota in 2003. Throughout her long, productive life she made things better wherever she applied her energies and knowledge. Her restoration work lives on in natural settings and human hearts throughout the land.

Reference: Wiener, Morris, Pathways: The Ontario Journal of Outdoor Education, v7 n6 p 32-35, Oct-Nov 1995

Alan (son) and Dot at a Wiscoy Potluck in 2007
Dorothy Wade 1914-2010

A Deeper Shade of Green…

Keeping it Real

Understanding the difference between “wildflowers” and authentic native plants

Most people correctly understand “wildflowers” to be those that grow freely, without human intervention. However, the poor quality of the “wildflower” seed mixes now being offered in big-box stores and some garden catalogs prompts us to warn, don’t plant wildflowers!

Most of the “wildflower” mixes created to meet popular demand are, in fact, not good for wildlife or the environment.  Most contain Asian or European flowers which crowd out plants that are truly native to North America.  This degrades the environment and displaces the native sources of food and shelter upon which birds, butterflies and other wildlife depend.  Flowers to avoid include Oxeye Daisy, Dame’s Rocket, Bouncing Bet and Queen Ann’s Lace, to name a few.  Better choices are authentic native wildflowers, grasses and trees.

For more than 30 years, we have been selling exclusively North American native plants; native plants that are undeniably what our native butterflies, birds and all pollinators need to survive.  Reach out to us to learn more about the importance of true North American natives; we’re here to help!

Please, plant native wildflowers – As your native garden flourishes, providing much-needed food and habitat and beautiful blossoms, you can observe first-hand the critical link between native plants and native wildlife.

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